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Keywords:

  • Ecological niche model;
  • glaciation;
  • interglacial;
  • Intermountain West;
  • phylogeography;
  • range fluctuation

The genetic consequences of climate-driven range fluctuation during the Pleistocene have been well studied for temperate species, but cold-adapted (e.g., alpine, arctic) species that may have responded uniquely to past climatic events have received less attention. In particular, we have no a priori expectation for long-term evolutionary consequences of elevation shifts into and out of sky islands by species adapted to alpine habitats. Here, we examined the influence of elevation shifts on genetic differentiation and historical demography in an alpine specialist, the American pika (Ochotona princeps). Pika populations are divided into five genetic lineages that evolved in association with separate mountain systems, rather than lineages that reflect individual sky islands. This suggests a role for glacial-period elevation shifts in promoting gene flow among high-elevation populations and maintaining regional cohesion of genetic lineages. We detected a signature of recent demographic decline in all lineages, consistent with the expectation that Holocene climate warming has driven range retraction in southern lineages, but unexpected for northern populations that presumably represent postglacial expansion. An ecological niche model of past and future pika distributions highlights the influence of climate on species range and indicates that the distribution of genetic diversity may change dramatically with continued climate warming.